The race seems to be between St. Pete and Tampa – either way the Bay Area wins.
St. PETERSBURG – Although nothing is yet confirmed St. Petersburg looks like the front-runner to become home to the first Cuban consulate in the United States in more than five decades. The first reports came from the Tampa Bay Times.
The newspaper reported Saturday that Cuban officials spent the day touring the city located and were very impressed with what they saw. The delegation included Cuba’s consular general from its embassy in Washington, D.C. and his second in command who looked at real estate in downtown St. Petersburg.
While, St. Petersburg seems to be an odds on favorite the Cuban government was quick to point out that they have yet to tour Tampa. As most know Ybor City has its long history with Cuba has not yet been toured. Most diplomatic experts say that the Cuban consulate will end up in the Bay Area because of their long standing relationship with the country.
The competition between the two cities has been quite intense as the Tampa City Council, along with the Hillsborough County Commission have joined with the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce in voting to bring the consulate to “The Cigar City.”
It was over a year ago the chamber’s delegation visited Cuba in May 2015.
Tampa highlighted their long history with Cuba dating to the founding of Ybor City in the late 1800s by immigrants from the island nation. The city was a staging ground for Cuba’s War of Independence against colonialist Spain. And with Cuban tobacco, Teddy Roosevelt and his Roughriders stopping over in Tampa before shipping off to Cuba before the war.
Meanwhile, the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership sent a delegation to Cuba in March of 2015 and again in December, it was during that visit there was a major breakthrough. St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman established a personal relationship with the Cuban government through two trips to the island nation.
His meeting with Gustavo Machin, deputy director for American affairs at the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the agency that will decide which U.S. city gets the first Cuban Consulate. The Tampa delegation, nor any key elected officials have met with that agency,
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, has previously said that while he would not stop a Cuban consulate from opening in Tampa he would not lend his support to such an endeavor until the Communist nation shows evidence of increased freedoms.
Krisman’s openness to working with the Cuban leaders seems to have put them in place to work out a deal. There has been no Cuban consulate in the U.S. since diplomatic relations were severed in 1961, so being home to the new one is a big coup.
Cuba’s embassy in Washington, D.C., serves its nation’s political interests. But the role of a consulate would be issuing visas and promoting and assisting with trade and other business ventures.
The Bay Area will also benefit from air travel to Cuba as we learned earlier this month Tampa is one of 10 cities that have been approved for flights to Havana, Cuba, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
The duties of a consulate include issuing visas and promoting and assisting with trade and other business ventures